Cuba Launches Campaign Touting Fidel's Designated Successor

Cuba's Communist leadership launched a campaign Friday emphasizing the revolutionary roots of Fidel Castro's brother and designated successor, attempting to reassure Cubans that the regime remains stable after the leader's hospitalization.

The government said it would defend itself against any U.S. attempts to take advantage of Castro's health crisis after President Bush urged Cubans to push for democratic change.

Cuban Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer said during a trip to Guatemala that Castro was doing well.

The leader "underwent a surgery from which he is recovering satisfactorily," Balaguer told Radio Sonora. "We have received messages of support from the most far-flung places in the world." He did not elaborate on the president's condition.

Neither Castro has appeared in public since the announcement Monday night that Fidel was temporarily ceding power to his younger brother Raul. Officials sought to assure Cubans that the communist regime retained its hold on power.

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"We Cubans are prepared for the defense ... and Raul is there firmly at the helm of the nation, of the Revolutionary Armed Forces," the Communist Party newspaper Granma said.

Granma recounted Raul Castro's decision to assume responsibility for the disastrous 1953 attack on a military barracks, which launched the Cuban Revolution.

Raul believed his brother had been killed. When he discovered Fidel had survived, he returned to his role as soldier, according to the article, which said: "This is a story that cannot be ignored in the face of today's events."

There were no new details on the status of Castro's health, or news about where he was convalescing.

Some Cuban exiles, meanwhile, wanted Bush to go further than rallying people on the island to push for democracy.

William Sanchez, an attorney for the Cuban American National Foundation, urged the president to tell Cuba to set an elections timetable, and to let Cuban-Americans go to the island by boat to help with a political transition. U.S. policy requires halting such "flotillas" before they enter Cuban waters.

There was no sense on the island that anything was going to change. State news media repeated the mantra: "The revolution will continue."

Some on the island suspected Fidel Castro, who turns 80 on Aug. 13, was still running the show, an impression supported by the younger Castro's avoidance of the spotlight.

"Initially, I don't think Raul Castro is going to make any decisions on his own without the authorization of his brother," said Eloy Gutierrez-Menoyo, a former exile now living in Cuba as a moderate dissident.

Official media continued to line up Cubans expressing confidence both in Fidel's ability to recover quickly and in Raul's competence to govern in the meantime.

"Every Cuban trusts Raul, and every one of our leaders," an unnamed woman said on state television news. "We are certain that the revolution will continue."

A U.S. official, however, said Cubans in contact with the American mission in Havana expressed fear and unease as they awaited new developments.

"We are seeing among the Cuban people a real sense that Fidel is never coming back to power — there seems to be a growing consensus in that direction," said Drew Blakeney, U.S. Interests Section spokesman.

Juanita Castro, who lives in Miami and has been estranged from her brother Fidel since 1963, said people in Havana had told he was released from intensive care Wednesday, but she knew nothing more.

"He's very sick, that's it," she said.